First Lines: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, deejay. Like Cooper van Epp. Standing in his room–the entire fifth floor of a Hicks Street brownstone–trying to beat-match John Lee Hooker with some piece of trip-hop horror. On twenty thousand dollars’ worth of equipment he doesn’t know how to use.
Years ago, I bought this at a sale and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. Which is weird, considering how much I love historical fictions and how much I adored Donnelly’s These Shallow Graves. But, regardless, I hadn’t read this. You know how it goes with books. I finally got in the mood for a historical fiction and grabbed this.
Andi Alpers is angry. At her father, at the world, at herself for the death of her little brother, Truman, two years ago. That anger is destroying her. On the verge of being expelled from her fancy private school, Andi’s father decides Andi needs out of New York and spirits her away to Paris for winter break. Two centuries ago in Paris, Alexandrine Paradis wanted nothing more than to be a star. But a fateful encounter with a doomed prince changes her destiny forever as the French Revolution sweeps up anyone and everyone it touches. Two-hundred years separate the girls, but when Andi finds Alex’s old diary, she finds someone who understands her pain and anger. Reading the diary becomes an obsession until a midnight journey through the Paris catacombs makes the past all too real.
This is a story that’s hard to describe. It’s actually really difficult to point to a single plot and tell you what happened because there’s so many little things. We follow Andi as she battles her depression. We follow Alex through the Revolution. We see Andi’s personal life implode. We see Alex’s country implode.
The history in the story was pretty good. The French Revolution may not be my wheelhouse (the American Revolution, however, is), but I’m not a complete novice. I know about the Bastille, who was king at the time, who Robespierre was, and “Let them eat cake.” So, you know, the basics. This definitely threw in some strange facts that I was not expecting. The stuff about the catacombs was disturbing and cool at the same time. And just the conditions of life in the 1790s was sometimes incredibly startling. This story did bring that home well.
But this story is also weird. I like to really immerse myself in the emotions of the story to feel like I’m there, but it was hard to do with Andi. She’s rageful and depressed. She pops pills like they’re M&Ms. She’s self-destructive without even realizing it. It’s always hard for me to jump into those stories because they’re just so dark from the beginning. Still, Andi had her moments. She’s pretty much a genius and she’s devoted to music. That did a lot to swing my opinion of her back towards favorable.
And look. I always have a hard time with stories that are told half in the “present” and half through journals/diaries. There’s just so much distance. I don’t feel like I’m in that second part. I feel like I’m in the present reading about the past. So no matter how dramatic Alex’s story was, I just didn’t feel the urgency or danger in it. I couldn’t get into it the way I wanted because I was reading the whole thing through Andi’s eyes.
I was a little disappointed from the book jacket as well. It describes this midnight walk in the catacombs, but that didn’t happen until like 75% through the book. So what I’d been looking forward to the whole story actually didn’t take up much time and wasn’t nearly as comprehensive and exciting as I was hoping. I was really hoping for more history out of this, which I believe puts me in the minority but it’s true.
Overall, I enjoyed this story, but it took a while to get into.